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CLONES Audio Asher DAC Review Print E-mail
Tuesday, 31 May 2016
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CLONES Audio Asher DAC Review

As impressive as the inner workings of the Asher are, its construction is very solid and the case work, connectors, and support feet are absolutely first rate. The prospective owner will have no complaints about the quality of the workmanship.

Set Up & Listening

Setting up the Asher was uneventful, aside from running the excellent Wireworld Gold Starlight 7 AES/EBU and Platinum 7 USB cables from my Bryston BDP-2 file player. The volume knob also doubles as menu selector, where you can select fixed or variable output, the digital input, the preferred PCM and DSD filters, the display brightness, among other things.

I selected fixed output, using my Aric Unlimited tubed preamp for volume control, driving a Simaudio 760A power amp, in turn driving Bryston Mini T speakers. Signal and power cable were Wireworld all around, with a full review in process. From previous experience with CLONES products, I let the DAC play music for a week before sitting down for serious listening. I left the DAC on 24/7, and it ran cool to the touch.

When I sat down for what turned out to be numerous, long listening sessions, I was able to rather quickly determine sonic personality of the Asher DAC. I heard a very precise sound stage. With superb separation of recorded elements, and near perfect tonal balance. During the review period I was going through a serious archeological dig into my classic progressive rock library. I streamed literally dozens of so called Krautrock, or German experimental bands, as wells as staples of the Canterbury scene, like Gentle Giant, Soft Machine, and space rock kings ike Hawkwind. I did this not only because I love the music, but it is also a great test for a DAC as the music is complex, challenging, and generally has lots of dynamic range.

First up were a pair of monumental German progressive rock albums by A.R. & Machines, Echo, and IV. The music is cosmic, filled with alternating points of subtly and explosiveness. The snaking lead guitar lines, synthesizers, and trippy arrangements are entrancing.  The Asher allowed me to follow hidden elements, and to precisely hear where everything was positioned in the mix.

I ran through a number of albums from other esoteric early 70’s German progressive rock from Agitation Free, Anonima Sound Ltd, Brainticket, and better known acts like Can. I was immensely pleased with the Asher’s presentation across the board. The tonal balance struck me as being right down the middle, with no emphasis on any part of the frequency spectrum.  This is what I have come to expect from the best DAC units on the market. No editorializing, just the most accurate digital to analog conversion the designer can muster. I believe once you start with an accurate source component, you can then tailor the sound to your liking with your choice of amplification and speakers. That is not the gospel, just my take.

It was not all vintage progressive rock however. The excellent self titled debut from Son Little, is addicting. His music is a melange of Brian Wilson symphonic pop, Curtis Mayfield style soul, and minimalist pop funk that pays tribute to the late, great Prince. The 24 bit download is a real treat, and having just seen Little live, the Asher presented his supple voice just like I remembered it. The clever arrangements, Mayfield like guitar parts, and Little’s layered vocals unfolded perfectly with the Asher decoding the bits. 

I made sure to listen to music all at resolutions, and the recent 96 kHz remasters of early Deep Purple titles just slammed out of the speakers, and there more recorded detail and punch than I could ask for. So not only does the Asher decode esoteric Krautrock, but it can hang with the heaviest music you can throw at it. The title track to Purple’s 1976 tour de force, Burn, was pure adrenaline. Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar and Jon Lord’s organ lines are a thing to behold and David Coverdale’s lead vocal on the title track is one of rock music’s greatest ever. The Asher, in my opinion got the perfect balance between total abandon and controlled professionalism the band was after at this point in their career.


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